The Commission on Audit has issued a disturbing report, finding the Department of National Defense responsible for misusing hundreds of millions of pesos in emergency funds included in its 2013 budget. The DND denied any wrongdoing, arguing that the funds had been used to build the military’s capacity precisely to respond to emergencies. So the issue is joined, but the real question is: What, in truth, are emergency funds for?
The COA found that the budget for the DND’s Quick Response Fund (QRF) had not been used as intended.
“A huge portion of the QRF was transferred to various bureaus under the [DND] for the acquisition of equipment, petroleum, oil and lubricants, training, construction/repairs and improvement which were not all consistent with the purposes of QRF.” In 2013, the QRF had an allocation of P352.5 million.
But the COA found that the department used only P6.65 million of the QRF to purchase relief items for the victims of Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” “The year 2013 would have been the opportune time to use the QRF for the purpose it was released due to the various calamities that occurred,” the COA said, somewhat plaintively.
The department maintained that the emergency allocation was in fact “utilized for the purpose it was released to the DND.” It argued that the department “embarked on a program that would ensure that the capacity of its bureaus, most especially the [Armed Forces of the Philippines], the first responders in disaster response operations, and the [Office of Civil Defense], tasked with administering a comprehensive national defense and disaster risk reduction and management program, are enhanced.”
Aside from capacity-building, it also offered the argument from operations—that is, that the funds were legitimately used as part of the emergency service. “It is critical that relief goods, rescuers, responders, ancillary workers that deliver social services, repair materials, tents and communication equipment and so forth need to be transported to disaster affected areas immediately to overcome human suffering,” the DND said. “In fact, during Yolanda in November 2013, fuel allocated as war reserves were utilized as we are committed not to stop until the job is done; and this same fuel needs to be replenished.”
This seems like a reasonable interpretation of the existing parameters. When fuel from the country’s war reserves is used to sustain the military’s emergency services, it makes sense to replenish those reserves as soon as feasible. Why not use the emergency funds for precisely that purpose?
The COA has an answer: The General Appropriations Act specifically defines the QRF as “a stand-by fund for relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction programs” for disaster-stricken communities. “There are only a few agencies which were appropriated [sic] with QRF and these were released to them by virtue of the functions they hold. They are bound by the provisions of the GAA and the elemental purpose of the funds,” the COA report said.
“On the part of the DND, [the funds] were released [ostensibly] to alleviate the situation and living conditions of calamity victims so that their conditions may be quickly normalized. Though they may use the same for pre-disaster activities, the genuine purpose of the funds should not be disregarded.”
It is incumbent on the DND to allay the public’s fears, and the COA’s harsh conclusion, that the emergency funds were misused. And, beyond that, considering that the department has conceded using the funds to pay for capacity-building and for operations, that the technical misuse did not amount to abuse (such as using the QRF to pay for fuel expenses of military officers not on emergency duty). But, if the DND insists on its interpretation, then it is time for both the lawyers and the lawmakers to get involved.
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